Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Manu Chao

  • Proxima Estacion: Esperanza [Virgin, 2001] A
  • Radio Bemba Sound System [Virgin, 2002] *
  • La Radiolina [Nacional/Because, 2007] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza [Virgin, 2001]
The French-raised Spaniard distilled the scattershot Europop-rock of Mano Negra into 1998's DIY, polyglot Clandestino, a word-of-mouth smash throughout Latin Europe and then Latin America. Clandestino was warm, sprightly, melancholy, palpably humane. This is all that with magic on top, reprising and varying a small store of infectious tunes into a motley suite segued and differentiated with sound effects, funny voices, surprise guest instruments, and spoken-word samples. The pulse is Marley sans Africa-reggae whiter than the Bellamy Brothers, ska liter than polka. The mood is festive in the urbane, liberal, and internationalist manner of Chao's new home, the pan-European haven Barcelona, a city that resisted Franco so vivaciously for so long that it assumes entertainment coexists with dread. Just in time--Euroworld! Never thought I'd hear it done right. A

Radio Bemba Sound System [Virgin, 2002]
live, he sometimes resembles late Steel Pulse more than you'd figure--also the Mighty Mighty Bosstones ("Welcome to Tijuana," "Bongo Bong") *

La Radiolina [Nacional/Because, 2007]
What Chao does seems so easy that it's hard to believe it took him seven years to follow up the sweetly relaxed, justly beloved Proxima Estación. Maybe he's just lazy--it's not like he's a work ethic guy. Or maybe he wanted to do something different and took a while settling into what that might be--namely, a new tempo. This is a speedier pop suite suitable for dancing or straightening up the flat. The guitars remind us that Chao launched his career from the Eurorock-en-Espanol Mano Negra, and the lyrics in French and Spanish seem as conscious as the English-language offerings "Politik Kills" and "Rainin in Paradize." These are rock moves, you could say. Yet the deepest accommodations are with glitzy, synthy, militantly shallow Europop. Seven years after 2001, what other populace can a radical internationalist such as Chao hope to enlighten? Not ours, I'm afraid. A-

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